The 2020 Oscars could have very well been another step backward for the often criticized Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences. Despite the historic diversity in the most popular films of 2019, the nominees were a very white affair. Much of the oxygen was sucked up by The Irishman and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, great movies that could have easily been made by the exact same people 20 years ago. And there was Joker, with its regressive treatment of white male ultraviolence. In an interview that went viral, Parasite director Bong Joon-Ho called the Oscars as “very local” awards show, and the bulk of the nominees did seem to reflect the very opposite of a global or broad-minded view of filmmaking. But instead, the 2020 Academy Awards pushed movies forward, and it’s all thanks to Bong and Parasite.
The film, which tells the story of a poor family that manipulates its way into the lives of a wealthy clan, was nominated for six awards. That meant that it trailed Joker, The Irishman, Once Upon a Time, and 1917 in terms of nominations, thanks in part to the fact that not a single actor from the uniformly expertly-performed movie received a nod. But in the end, the movie nearly swept its categories, winning for Best Picture, director, international feature, and original screenplay.
The wins amount to a ton of historical firsts: The first Korean film ever to win an Oscar, the first Asian best original screenplay winner, and the first non-English best picture winner. With four wins in a single night, Bong tied a record set all the way back in 1953—a record held by Walt Disney himself.
Throughout the night, Bong was an incredibly charming winner, delivering sincere and funny acceptance speeches with the aid of a translator. When accepting the Best Director award, he shouted out his fellow nominees, including Irishman director Martin Scorsese. “Thank you so much. When I was young and studying cinema, there was a saying that I carved deep into my heart,” said Bong, “which is that ‘the most personal is the most creative.’ That quote is from our great Martin Scorsese. When I was in school, I studied Martin Scorsese’s films. Just to be nominated was a huge honor. I never thought I would win.”
“Now I’m ready to drink until tomorrow,” he finished.
When he won the Golden Globe for best Foreign Language Film last month, Bong offered some advice in his acceptance speech. “Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films,” he said. “Just being nominated along with fellow, amazing international filmmakers was a huge honor. I think we use only one language: the cinema.” With Parasite’s Oscars sweep, it looks like the Academy is overcoming some barriers of its own.